The 11th staging of the Harness Jewels at Ashburton Raceway on the 3rd June was once again blessed with good weather and good racing.
The all-conquering All Stars Stable of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen continued on its winning way creating more milestones in the process. The stable went into the prestigious day’s harness racing already holding a formidable lead in the number of Jewels won, standing at 30 from 87 attempts.
Four more Jewels were added to the treasure chest, from seven races contested on the day, taking their total to an incredible 34 Jewels won from 94 races contested; a strike rate of over 36%. Not only were four winners trained by Mark and Natalie, but also seven placegetters were added to the tally, including a trifecta in one race.
From a total of 20 runners on the day, the All Stars team had 11 runners finish in the money, 1st, 2nd or 3rd, as well as Mark Purdon driving another 2nd placing with One Muscle Hill, who he was the caretaker trainer of for ex-pat Kiwi Nicole Molander. From their own team, Natalie drove two winners, Mark one and stable employee Tim Williams one.
With Mark’s one winner he increased his domination in the drivers ranks, to now have 21 Jewels winning drives, an incredible feat and one that is well clear of the second placed driver Blair Orange who is now on 8 wins, closely followed by champion reinsmen Dexter Dunn and David Butcher, both on 7 wins. Zac Butcher, also with one win this year inches closer to now be on 6 wins to date.
Last year, for the first time ever for either Island, remarkably all 9 races were won by horses trained in the South Island, or more specifically Canterbury, but this year the North Island managed to chalk up two wins; no mean feat with the domination of the South Island based All Stars stable.
TAB Trackside Television provided great coverage of the day, but it was just a pity it couldn’t have been for the entire programme and had to be interrupted with coverage of lower grade Australian gallops in the latter part.
In a bazaar incident champion horseman Ricky May almost had a disastrous start to his Jewels Day, when he was knocked over by a reversing vehicle on his way to the track. The bazaar thing was, the vehicle was being driven by another leading driver on the Jewels Day, but luckily Ricky only suffered minor discomfort to his wrist and after being checked by St Johns staff on course he was cleared to be able to fulfil his diving engagements for the day, which included the favourite for the 3YO Ruby, Enghien – I’m sure the other driver wasn’t hoping to pick up the plum drive. Ricky shook off his jitters and went on to win the race.
One new NZ Record was set on the day, that by Ashley Locaz, setting a new 2-year-old pacers record of 1:51.9, beating the previous mark 1:52.8 set by Sky Major in his 2013 Jewels win, the first of 3 consecutive wins for that horse.
A resume of each of the Harness Jewels races for 2017 is as follows:-
Group 1 $150,000 ASHBURTON GUARDIAN 2YO DIAMOND
The hot favourite and Breckon Farms bred Elle Mac went to the early lead and ran them along at good speed and was pressured by Angel Of Harlem turning for home but was able to hold off all challenges until the last 50m when DIZZY MISS LIZZY came from 3-back on the markers to get out and around runners to power down the outer for a close but good win in a 1:53.6 Mile Time, with Elle Mac second and Angel Of Harlem in third.
Group 1 $100,000 NEUMANNS TYRES & THE TYRE GENERAL 2YO RUBY
After a false start the first time the favourite Springbank Lachie held the lead before after being 3-wide early PARAMOUNT KING pressed on to take the lead with about 900m to go and held all at bay to go on for a brave win from the Australian representative One Muscle Hill with Castlereagh third, in a Mile Time of 1:58.0.
Group 1 $150,000 WOODLANDS STUD 4YO DIAMOND
The very hot favourite PICCADILLY PRINCESS, starting from Barrier No.1, was crossed into the first turn by Queen Bee Bardon, but quickly hooked out and went around to take up the lead, where she stayed throughout to go on for a comfortable win from a brave Queen Bee Bardon and a fast-finishing Ultimate Desire, with a Mile Time of 1:53.8.
Group 1 $150,000 MID CANTERBURY TROTTING OWNERS ASSN 3YO DIAMOND
Juice Brogden made a flyer from the gate, while the hot favourite SPANISH ARMADA was caught 5-wide into the first turn, but got closer to the markers and progressed forward to take over heading into the back straight. She went on for another dominant win, with Delightful Memphis running home strongly for second (Delightful Memphis has now run 2nd to Spanish Armada no less than 10 times) and Step Up obtaining a run up the inner from 4-back to get third, in a Mile Time of 1:52.1 and quite exceptional closing sectionals of 53.6 and 25.5, being the fastest recorded on the day.
Group 1 $100,000 CHRISTCHURCH CASINO 3YO RUBY
As expected this race was to be dominated by the two favourites with the second favourite President Roydon trailing Chevron Express early before popping out and going round to lead while the favourite ENGHIEN was caught out 3 and 4-wide around the first bend before getting to the parked position down the back and wearing down the leader in the home straight to go on for a close but well-deserved win, with the Breckon Farms – Top Ten Syndicate filly Regal Love rushing home from second-to-last of the main bunch with 500m to go, for third placing and to be the first filly home, in a 1:57.6 Mile Time.
Group 1 $150,000 COMMODORE AIRPORT HOTEL 2YO EMERALD
Another very short-priced favourite in Spankem made the lead from his handy draw with the second favourite Alta Maestro settling parked outside him. Bright Diamond trailed with ASHLEY LOCAZ 3-back on the markers, as the leader’s stablemate The Devils Own began a run 3-wide from well back in the field at the 800m. In a hectic pace Spankem held them all at bay until his two stablemates Ashley Locaz and The Devils Own flew down the outer to collar him and take first and second respectively in a quick Mile Time of 1:51.9.
Group 1 $150,000 MCMILLAN FEEDS 4YO EMERALD
The erratic HEAVEN ROCKS started as an odds-on favourite despite his Unruly barrier position off the 2nd Row and settled well back 3-out early as the Australian representative Mr Mojito led from the outset. Heaven Rocks was still 3-wide at the halfway point and then got to the parked position as his stablemate Waikiki Beach made the lead soon after. As they turned for home Heaven Rocks went to the front and although he wanted to veer in he went on for a convincing 4½ length win (the largest winning margin of the day) from Mr Mojito in second and Sparkling Delight emerging from the bunch for third, in a Mile Time of 1:51.8, the equal fastest time of the day.
Group 1 $100,000 MCMILLAN FEEDS 4YO RUBY
In a more even race Dark Horse was sent out favourite, but it was Gentleman Sir who made the best beginning to lead, with WILMA’S MATE getting the trail. Down the back Wilma’s Mate came out and went around to take up the lead, giving Gentleman Sir the trail, with Dark Horse in the one-one. Wilma’s Mate led them in and went on for a good win, from Gentleman Sir and Dark Horse running home in third placing, in a good Mile Time of 1:55.5, the fastest for the trotters on the day.
Group 1 $150,000 HANLEY FORMULA 3YO EMERALD
The last on the day also contained a warm order favourite in Ultimate Machete, with the bookmakers and the TAB both thinking that three of the four All Stars runners were to fight out the finish, but due to a masterful drive by Zac Butcher on JACK’S LEGEND when he took the “bull by the horns” and sped to the led from No.6 at the start before handing-up to Ultimate Machete down the back. Jack’s Legend enjoyed the trail for the second half of the race before taking the passing lane run late in the home straight to go on for a great win, with the All Star pair of Ultimate Machete finishing second and More The Better third, making it a Purdon trifecta, but it was Mark’s brother Barry who trained the winner, in a Mile Time of 1:51.8, equalling the fastest time of the day.
This wrapped up a great days racing and so it can be said that the All Stars Stable domination of Jewels Day, with their four wins this year taking them to 34 in total well clear of Geoff Small with 6 wins and Barry Purdon also now on 6 wins in equal second place, has cemented the super stable as New Zealand’s greatest ever, of either the galloping or harness codes and with over $4million in stakes in New Zealand alone this season and having won every Group 1 male and female pacing race for 2 and 3-year-olds in the country last season, there surely is no argument.
We congratulate all participants and their breeders, owners, trainers and drivers, at the Jewels this year, for yet another fantastic spectacle of harness racing.